Summer Reading

I was away for a few days last week and did what I always do in Vermont: hike a little and read and relax a lot.  There are several books in my sister’s library I re-read once a year:  Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.

Understood Betsy

This is the story of a little orphan girl around 1900 who has to leave the home of her aunt in an unspecified mid-western city and move to near Putney, Vermont.  She learns self-sufficiency, kindness and, most of all, what it takes to be happy.  My sister’s hardback is so old, it was published when Dorothy Canfield has not yet added the Fisher.  It was published in 1917.  The book is like the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the way in which they talk about how to do things like churn butter and make applesauce.  And of course, it is about Vermont.

Gone-Away Lake is also a children’s book.  First published in 1957, it tells the story of young, almost teens who discover an abandoned resort on a lake that became a swamp after a dam was built.  They discover a brother and sister fallen on hard times who moved back to where they had once spent summers.  They have adventures and keep the discovery a secret as long as they can from their parents.  It is a book about accepting differences couched in a summer vacation story.  There is a sequal, Return to Gone-Away in which one of the abandoned houses is purchased and restored by one of the families. 

Elizabeth Enright

Elizabeth Enright won a Newberry Honor award for Gone-Away Lake.

My other favorite thing to do is to poke around a wonderful used bookstore in Brattleboro, Brattleboro Books.  (They, like all bookstores, need a little press.) This year the treasure I unearthed by Dorothy Gilman’s The Tightrope Walker.  I had not thought about it or read it in many years, but the minute I spotted the book, it all came back to me.  It is the story of a young woman who solves a mystery and discovers herself. (Is there a theme to these books?)

The heroine finds a note in a hurdy-gurdy and follows a trail to uncover a the secret of the note writer’s murder.  It is an old-fashioned follow the clues where ever they lead mystery with some romance thrown in.   Gilman wrote the tightrope walker in 1979 in between writing her better known Mrs. Pollifax spy stories.

So now you know what I read on my summer vacation. 



No Hit Ball Players: Adam Dunn and Bill Bergen

The title of this post does not refer to anything a pitcher might accomplish.  This is about position players, starters, who can’t hit the ball. 

We all have days when things don’t go well.  Maybe your boss chews you out for a mistake or for forgetting to do something.  Or you mess up cooking something you have made a thousand times before.  Maybe you put in a load of laundry and forget the soap.  But imagine an entire season like that.  Imagine an entire career. 

Adam Dunn is having one of those years.

The slugger, Adam Dunn, who had been a model of power and production for the past 10 years, finished Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees with a batting average of .165. That is not a typo, not a mistake, and not an easy thing for a professional player to do even if he is trying to.

The New York Times story continues

Dunn, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract to join the White Sox this past winter, has struck out 138 times this season and is on pace for 207.

He has struck out three or more times in 18 games, twice the total of anybody else in the major leagues. Of course, none of this has been made easier — for White Sox fans to believe or for Dunn to endure — by the fact that Dunn is, of all things, the team’s designated hitter.

“I hate it more than anybody can imagine,” Dunn said in an interview Monday. “But what do you do? There’s not an easy button I can push and start over. Or I would.”

Sports have forever been riveting for the wonder of athletic accomplishment, for the demonstrations of grace under pressure, for the ability of people to overcome adversity. But sports can also be riveting for their spectacular moments of failure.

Nick Cafardo had a slightly different  take in the Boston Globe when the White Sox were in town before they played the Yankees.

Dunn’s is a sad story. The more hitting experts look at his swing, the more they realize he has no chance because his hands are never in good hitting position. Dunn doesn’t exactly work overtime to correct it either, and when he recently told Jeff Passan ofYahoo! Sports that he was contemplating quitting, you can understand why. Nowadays when he walks, that’s considered a breakthrough. Nobody saw it coming, and the White Sox are saddled with a completely unproductive player.

“When a guy is going that bad, it’s just sad,’’ concurred one American League scout. “You can’t even evaluate it because the guy is so messed up.’’

Dunn’s season has been historically awful. He has a chance to finish with a lower batting average than even Rob Deer’s .179 in 1991.”


But Dunn is only having a spectacularly bad season.  If he bounces back next year, 2011 will be considered an oddity.  Think of Bill Bergen.  No, I never heard of him before today either.   Bergen played for the Brooklyn Superbas from 1901 to 1911.  Lynn Zinser has written a long and interesting story on Bill Bergen who “couldn’t hit the side of a barn.”

In 3,028 career at-bats, he hit two home runs. In only one season did his average top .200. His career .194 on-base percentage means he didn’t walk much. His career .201 slugging percentage means he rarely hit for extra bases. Perhaps his quirkiest statistic: he was never hit by a pitch.

“He is about as bad a hitter as you can possibly imagine,” said David Jones, a baseball historian who edited two books on baseball’s dead-ball era. “But if he’d been a little bit better hitter, no one would ever talk about him.”

Instead, his name crops up whenever a baseline of offensive futility is needed. He does not have a line named after him like Mario Mendoza, whose paltry batting average made him synonymous with hitting .200. But Bergen is firmly installed in the history of futility.

 How did he last 11 seasons?

Bergen’s secret was playing at a time — that dreaded dead-ball era — when good defensive catchers were worth their weight in Teddy Roosevelt autographs. Bergen was a great defensive catcher. By some statistical measures, he is considered among the top five defensive catchers in National League history.

“It was an era when catchers were even more important than they are today because bunting and stealing bases were the main way teams would score runs,” said Tom Simon, who along with Jones edited the books on the stars of the dead-ball era. “So teams would carry a guy hitting .139 if he could keep the other team from scoring.”

Bergen caught a relatively modest 941 games but ranks in the top 20 in career assists by a catcher with 1,444. He threw out 47.3 percent of runners attempting to steal. He once threw out six in one game, against St. Louis in 1909

Bergen at least was good at something.  Poor Adam Dunn is the DH so he can’t point to his fielding.  His manager, Ozzie Guillen, said, “When we play him at first, he doesn’t hit either.”

So here is hoping that Dunn finds his hitting stroke and has a better season next year. 



The complicated deficit deal

I know I’ll be writing more about the imact of the “compromise” in the days to come, but for now here a summary.  The Atlantic Wire has the best written summary I’ve been able to find.

The basic plan, as explained by The New York Times‘ Carl Hulse and Helene Cooper, Politico’s David Rogers, and The Hill‘s Alexander Bolton, goes something like this:

1. Raise the debt limit by $900 billion and cut spending by the same amount over 10 years. Members of Congress can vote to show they don’t like the increase but Obama can veto their disapproval. 
2. Create a bipartisan committee with three members of each party from each chamber of Congress to find spending cuts the size of a second debt limit increase of $1.5 trillion. As a special holiday treat, the plan must be presented to colleagues by Thanksgiving and voted on by Christmas.
3. If the plan passes, Obama can raise the limit by $1.5 trillion.
4. If the cuts committee can’t come up with a plan, Obama can get only a $1.2 trillion debt limit increase, and Congress must either:
a. Pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, or
b. Allow spending cuts the size of the debt limit increase over the next 10 years, with at least half coming from cuts to defense spending. These cuts would be automatic by the end of 2012.
There is still a chance to get revenue increases through the committee’s recommendations.  That is what the Democrats have to run around the country selling:  increased revenues and more chanced to create jobs.  I heard Nancy Pelosi say at one point that the country did not want this debt crisis business, but were interested in “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  This has to be the new Democratic message:  OK, we have pretty much caved on the debt business, now create some jobs.
We Have a Debt Limit Deal: Now What?
So smile now, because if there aren’t more jobs soon – and the deficit deal has the potential to make a lot more of them go away – you might not be smiling in November 2012.